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August Issue
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Interview: Charlie Hunter - Life in the Pocket

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Interview: Charlie Hunter - Life in the Pocket

I sense a very honest and clear creative path you’re on. Was there ever a time when things weren’t so clear? Were you ever a copycat?

I had my time when I was really into learning Charlie Parker solos, Wes Montgomery solos, or learning how to play more Tuck Andress or Joe Pass style. Even stuff that I never transcribed a solo of. I’ve never transcribed any Bill Frisell or Scofield but I listened to them a lot. I listened to a lot of old blues because that’s what my mom had around the house. So I have a wealth of information that influences me. Also, all the people I’ve played with have all been pretty much bad asses. They really influence how I play and make me always want to get better and not let anybody down in terms of being on the bandstand.

Ultimately you start to realize after a while that not letting anyone down on the bandstand is about representing yourself as good as you can, and developing your own thing, and coming with that as strong as you possibly can. That doesn’t mean just coming out of nowhere and saying, “I am so developed” after only playing a year. I’m forty-three years old and I feel like I’m just to the point in my life where I would say, “I’m actually playing pretty well.” I don’t mean like physically playing the notes, but finally I’m forty-three and I feel like I’ve developed a style.

I don’t think I had a style ten years ago. I definitely could do a lot of stuff and I may have had a kind of sound, but I feel like I do something now that is my own specific kind of thing. It’s involved with the instrument I play, but also kind of a way I want to do music.

Who do you think you were ten years ago?

I don’t think I sounded like anybody. I sounded like myself but you’re constantly trying to get more to the center of what you are and be much more secure in that. I think I was who I was ten years ago but just not as secure as I sound today. There were still things I would do that were trying to be really overtly guitar-like because I thought maybe people would be impressed by that. I just don’t do that anymore because I’ve burned that out. I’m just trying to get to the music that I think is more honest.

I know there are lots of guys and gals out there that can really play bass and really play guitar and have something to say on it. I just have to continue to develop this thing that I have which is more about the counterpoint than the rhythmic thing that happens between these two parts, and how that goes into the music and can be different. It’s an uphill battle because people are generally impressed by shiny objects.

I played a gig with my friend Jim Campilongo. I played a six string and I started doing all those kinds of things that people hear you do on guitar and are really impressed by, but really it’s not that musically exciting to me. But people just loved it! I realized that if I did this I certainly could be having a lot more success, but it would be not what I’m really excited about doing. What I’m really excited about doing unfortunately involves covert chops. Things like working on time, soul, phrasing, and how to be a better drummer on the instrument. Things that ultimately are not going to be really overtly exciting to people, but if they weren’t there they’d be very noticeable. I love that, so that’s what I continue to do. I don’t think I could do it differently.

Do you feel that the unique nature of your instrument and your playing style distracts some people from your music?

Maybe. On the whole probably not. I went on YouTube and looked at all the guitar players who had the most hits. One thing really resonated with me. They all were very good at getting around on the instrument but they had almost zero musicianship. They had a very shallow understanding of music in the grander sense and how music works. It was just very shallow. I feel like many guitar players fall into that kind of category.

They’re able to play flurries and things that are exciting to the average listener, but when you scratch the surface there’s very little substance there. But that seems to be part and parcel of the guitar industry. I can’t tell you how completely uninteresting that is to me. There are very few guitar players I’m even interested in hearing. Most of the time when I hear it, it’s just like somebody force feeding me massive amounts of salt, MSG, sugar, and candy all at the same time. There’s just nothing I can use in there.

I understand when you’re a sixteen-year-old boy. When I was sixteen I could use all of that, but it’s just too much. There’s just very little of interest in there. But people like that because that’s where they’re at in their evolution and I can’t fault them for that.

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